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Can Amtrak Reduce Plastic While Ditching Traditional Dining Cars?

Amtrak is off track when it comes to reducing single-use plastic. Instead of focusing their efforts on reducing waste altogether, the company is focused on a recycling goal of 20% by 2020

While the company aims to increase recycling, Amtrak is doing away with its traditional dining car on some routes. They once provided white linen table cloths, metal utensils, and fancy china. Now, as the freshly prepared meals served on fancy china are replaced with prepackaged meals, customers can expect to see more plastic. The change is driven by the desire to save money—the railroad anticipates they’ll save about $2 million a year.

Amtrak uses compostable cold cups. However, these cups are only compostable in an industrial facility, which is uncommon in the U.S. Compostable cups are often tossed in the trash and sent to landfills where they act like regular plastic or they’re put into the recycling, which may result in the entire bin of recyclables being tossed out.

When it comes to reducing plastic waste, other rail service providers are leaving Amtrak in the dust.

Via Rail in Canada began reducing single-use plastics in 2018, replacing plastic straws and coffee stirrer sticks with paper and wood substitutes. Via Rail also plans to eliminate single-use plastic cups and glasses in business class, and aims to develop onboard collection and sorting capabilities, so they can maximize recycling and reduce waste. 

In 2019, Indian Railways implemented a ban on thin single-use plastics. Bottle-crushing machines are being installed at rail stations and vendors have been directed to avoid using plastic bags for deliveries.

Britain’s Network Rail is banning plastic cups and cutlery at its stations, beginning in 2020. It recently began installing water fountains so that passengers can fill water bottles at stations. Rail lines across Europe are also expected to strip trains and stations of single-use plastic, once the European Union’s ban on single-use plastics takes effect in 2025.

Clearly, Amtrak has a ways to go to catch up to other rail lines when it comes to sustainability. Some passengers believe the dining car is iconic to the rail experience and started a petition asking Amtrak to keep the dining car on long-distance train rides. Perhaps we need a new petition asking Amtrak to focus less on recycling and more on reducing single-use plastic onboard?


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